Rating: 4 Stars
I should start this review off with a couple statements religion as it pertains to my life:
1. I was baptized Lutheran and attended a Lutheran church up until the middle of my freshman year of high school.
2. I started going to the Methodist church and was confirmed there because a pastor at my home church found it appropriate to discuss church financial matters at an Easter service. This was very off-putting to me.
3. I did not attend church for over a decade after high school.
4. Eleanor was baptized at the Covenant church where my grandparents got married and where my mom was baptized.
5. Eleanor and I now attend a wonderful Covenant church and I am so grateful for this place that is allowing me to recapture my faith every single day.
I am not sure what compelled me to share these things, but maybe it will help people understand why I am still kind of stupid in religion-related discussions. I feel like when it comes to the Bible itself, I have a decent grasp. When it comes to the hows and whys of some aspects, I am still unclear at times. I love learning about the history of religion, how it has developed and evolved over thousands of years, and who the prime movers and shakers were that made things happen.
So, that makes Martin Luther kind of an important guy, right? And probably someone who I should already know a lot about, seeing as how he is the inadvertent FOUNDER of my section of Protestantism.
As it turns out, I didn't really know anything, except one day he marched himself up to the cathedral in Wittenberg, nailed his 95 Theses to the door, and set off on a one-man crusade to stop Catholicism in its tracks.
And even THAT is not entirely accurate.
So, I knew even less about Luther than I thought, and despite the somewhat love/hate relationship I seem to be developing with the author, and this biography really opened by eyes to who this man was. I don't know why it took me so long to actually read a biography about Luther; perhaps I thought I knew all I needed to, with the whole theses-nailed-to-the-door thing. As it turns out, there is a question of whether or not events actually played out that way, and early on the Theses didn't even make as big of a splash with religious leaders as has been portrayed. In addition to that, I thought I knew more than I did because I have spent so much of the last few years reading about the Tudors, and of course Henry VIII is especially involved in this time period. I have always read about this from the Tudor perspective and Henry's in particular. I'd always wondered what Luther's responses had been to all of Henry's ridiculousness. Of course it is what you'd expect.
Luther's primary motivation for writing his 95 Theses was due to the selling of Indulgences by the Church and the fact that it appeared to even be sanctioned by the Pope. Imagine how different the course of Christianity might have gone had the Pope agreed and stopped the practice? At least in England, how would Henry have wriggled out of his first marriage? He would not have had the excuse to break with Rome, could not have declared himself the Supreme Head of Church...or maybe he could have, this is Henry we are talking about. But what religion would he have wandered toward?
I found the aspects dealing with Luther's personal life more intriguing even than all the uproar he created after his Theses were published. There were so many things I found interesting, the first being that Luther himself eventually married and had many children. How amazing would it have been to have been a student staying in the Luther home, attending University and learning from him at the same time? I can imagine what lively dinner discussions might have been had in the old cloister, and what hustle and bustle would have constantly been going on with students and family around constantly.
Near the end of the book Wilson brings up the thought-provoking point as follows:
"It embarrassed his friends who realized that their leader was becoming increasingly an eccentric, angry old man at odds with the world. It gave unsympathetic historians the opportunity to concentrate on style rather than on substance. And it actually obscured the finer points of his argument" (page 317). Basically, Wilson surmises that perhaps Luther lived too long and actually may have done damage to the movement, though by then it had outgrown him and taken on a life of its own, and to his own legacy. Due to my own limited knowledge, I can not say I agree or disagree, but he makes an interesting point.
I was pleased to discover the author had included Luther's 95 Theses after his notes. I've not read these since high school, and feel like today I have a much better understanding of what he was saying. I've reread that section several times.
Overall I can say I can recommend this book on the basis of both religion and biography. For those interested in the Reformation from the perspective of those who got it really going, this one is definitely recommended. But also I can recommend it as a biography of a highly important figure in history as well.